Things that drive a Professor of Race Relations and Immigration Mad

Over the past few days, I found myself wondering about the “New Class Warfare,” Troy Davis, the “Diversity Bake Sale” at UC Berkley, and a recent invitation I received to participate in a “No Che Day” sponsored by the Young Americans for Freedom and the College Republicans.  Although at a personal level, I find myself angered and at times offended by the type of vitriol, racism, and xenophobia being spewed in relationship to minorities, what concerns me more is the lack of open and informed discussion about race, immigration, the death penalty, and class –particularly with college aged adults.  Teaching moments present themselves all the time, but amidst the concern of creating a media maelstrom, we sweep these important discussions under the rug.  Bigotry remains unchallenged when we can use these moments to create real dialogue.  I was  really moved when I saw this picture in the SF Examiner, because it reminded me that we need to make “isms” visible.

UC Us Now (click link to see full picture)

As much as I disagree with some of the perspectives being advocated for by some of the aforementioned groups, I firmly believe that free speech is important.  I believe that the cornerstone of democracy is the ability to share your views without fear of persecution.  It’s at these moments at the crossroads that I believe it is most important to have real, difficult, uncomfortable, and even angry discussions in hopes of learning and finding new truths.  Yet, it is these very discussions we shy away (or perhaps it’s run away) from.  At these moments, we can actually share empirical facts and confront and challenge the fallacies that fuel so many of these movements.  Just as importantly, I think it is important to ask people why they feel the way they feel.

For example, I am really proud that faculty in the Theology and Religious Study Department at USD signed a public statement challenging the death penalty .  I believe that our community would be enriched if we heard why they felt making this public statement was important.   These statements are not easy to make, but they are important to be heard.

So what really makes me mad as a Professor that teaches about immigration and race relations is not that racism, xenophobia, and bigotry of any kind exists. What makes me mad is the unwillingness to talk openly and honestly, regardless of one’s political persuasion, about finding common ground without promoting and growing bigotry and hate.

Curves for Change: Installment 2

As noted in my previous entry, I’m working on a 30x project on the theme of curves.  30 days, 30 pictures.  I’ve also tried to find inspirational quotes that fit with the pics.  I’ve included my latest pictures and quotes here and try to provide some explanation when possible. I have to admit, my writing energy is at a bit of a low I have a ton of deadlines that are all due October 1st.  Craziness!!  So forgive the lack of written creativity in this blog post.

Kokopelli play for me,
So my heart may sing,
Magic flute of mystery,
Fruitful dreams you bring.
Song of Aztlan,
Fertile Fire,
Canyons of my mind,
Sacred union,
Heart to heart,
Speaks of the Divine.

I’ve always been fascinated with the image of Kokopelli.  The ancient connections connected to the Hopi is fascinating.  The poem reminded of the importance of our hearts, dreams, and minds.

I accidentally shot into the sun, but it had the unintended positive consequence of providing me with a rainbow.  When I was looking for quotes, I wasn’t sure if I wanted one on fountains or rainbows, so I chose one of each.

  • “Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge, others just gargle.” Robert Anthony
  • “And as he spoke of understanding, I looked up and saw the rainbow leap with flames of many colors over me.” Black Elk
I was trying to learn how to use the different exposure settings on my camera, and this candle ended up being a bit trickier to shoot than I thought.  It was a fun experiment though.  We all use candles for all sorts of personal and ceremonial part of our lives.  In darkness it provides the light we need to see the way.  This quote reminded me of the importance of self reflection.
“We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light.” ~Evelyn Dunbar
I was trying to find a unique way of photographing something that I see everyday at work, the Immaculata.  I decided since the theme was curves, snapping a shot from the adjacent archways allowed for a new perspective on the same old thing.  With new perspective comes new experiences and knowledge. Alfred Lloyd Tennyson wrote,
 “All experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and ever when I move.”
The picture’s fuzzier than I wanted, but I thought the flamingo was cool.  In truth, there weren’t any inspirational quotes about flamingos so I went with whatever I could find.
“Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he’s carrying a beautiful rose in his beak, and he’s also carrying a beautiful painting in his feet. And also, you’re drunk.” Jack Handy.
Again, I was playing with exposure with this picture.  I also realized I forgot all the lessons I learned on spot metering.  Anyways, I was listening to a song called “Good Friend and a Glass of Wine” by Leann Rimes and wanted to put together an image of that idea.
I dedicated this picture to my friend Anna Guevarra who just got tenured at University of Illinois, Chicago.  I read this quote by Emily Bronte and thought it captured what an inspirational person she is.
“I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.”  Emily Bronte
Today, Wangari Maathai, Africa’s first female Nobel Prize winner, environmental activist, professor, and leader of the Green Belt Movement passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer.  She focused on the interconnectedness of life and worked tirelessly to alleviate poverty, argued for environmental sustainability, and community lead initiatives.  We need to remind ourselves that resources need to be replenished –there is no such thing as an endless supply.  So the picture I posted today is the curve of the coastline in La Jolla, and reminds me not to take things for granted.
Here are a few quotes from the amazing Wangari Maathai.  Rest in Peace, Professor Maathai.
 “You must not deal only with the symptoms. You have to get to the root causes by promoting environmental rehabilitation and empowering people to do things for themselves. What is done for the people without involving them cannot be sustained.”
“In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace.”

Curves in life

I’m starting a new project. 30 days, 30 pictures –the theme is curves.  I didn’t pick the theme, it’s part of this meet-up photography project designed to get me to learn how to use my camera a bit better.  For those following this on facebook, you’ll see that I’m attempting to find inspirational quotes and thoughts to match up with my project.  We’ll see how long it lasts.

I think these first two pictures, and the quotes I chose speak to my mindset these days.  Contemplating change and my place in the world.

My first picture was taken at the tide pools at La Jolla Cove.

After quite a bit of reading, I came across this quote by John Steinbeck from The Log of the Sea of Cortez. I liked it because it reminds us all that we are connected.   Steinbeck wrote,

“This is a simple thing to say, but the profound feeling of it made a Jesus, a St. Augustine, a St. Francis, a Roger Bacon, a Charles Darwin, and an Einstein. Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”

My second picture was taken on the Kumeyaay trail at USD at around midnight.  I needed some air before finishing up some projects and found myself looking at the curves in the road ahead.

Sometimes we know where we’re going to end up, and sometimes we don’t.  It reminded me of my favorite Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.”  He writes,

 “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. “

Sometimes we just need to keep faith and know whatever journey is ahead of us will take us where we need to go.

Harvest Moon Meanderings

The Harvest Moon –what’s it’s significance?  I actually thought about this the other day when I was at Ranch 99 –the ultimate Asian Grocery store (just in case you didn’t know.)  As I walked through the bakery section, we came across the stacks upon stacks of moon cakes.  My friend asked me what they were and why we ate them?  I said that I assumed that it had to do with the Harvest Moon, but I wasn’t sure. Yes… I know, I’m losing what little Asian street cred I have, for not knowing the meaning. When I got home, I picked up my copy of “Good Luck Life: the Essential Guide to Chinese American Celebrations” and found out that moon cakes “symbolize the heavenly blessings of longevity and good health.”

For those who follow the Farmer’s Almanac, the harvest moon suggests the end of summer and a time of abundance.  It allows farmers to harvest the rewards of their hard spring and summer’s work. This moon also rises earlier and provides farmers more time for harvest.

As I searched some more, I read that in Chinese Taoist philosophy, that this moon served as a reminder to “slow down our frantic outward activities, rest, and reflect inward on our life’s journey so that we can continue to stay on our golden path.” That , “as the sap of trees move into their roots, leaves change color, and animals begin to store food for the winter, this is the time of year for us to start focusing on internal cultivation.”   In other words, it is a reminder for reflection and self care.

Of course, if you read scientific websites, you’ll see that many say there’s no real significance.

Personally, I’m just taking this as a moment to remind each of us to reflect on how we can best take care of our spirits and souls. Just as importantly, know that I send you wishes for good health and heavenly blessings for longevity.

PS: It seems only appropriate to listen to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon on an evening such as this.

Never Forget…or actively remembering the forgotten: a 9/11 reflection

Today’s theme: Never forget. I hear this and somehow wonder if we truly remember…

Like many of you, I remember exactly where I was 10 years ago when the planes hit the World Trade Towers, the Pentagon, and the crash in the fields of Pennsylvania. I remember sitting in front of my tiny TV in my studio apartment in LA watching the news coverage and the endless replay of the towers crashing down to the ground. I remember receiving a call from my father, a SFPD police officer at the time –telling me that if anything happened in LA I should travel east and out of the city. I remember the eerie silence that fell over LA and walking on the USC campus wondering what we should do and if we’d ever be the same. I remember regretting being so far away from my family. I remember praying that my friends living in New York and DC were safe.
Today, I find myself thinking about what we’ve forgotten as we’ve moved forward from that fateful day.

Do we remember the immigrants –documented and undocumented that lost their lives that day(1). From day one, many of their names eluded the lists of the missing. Do we remember the 27 foreign nationals who died in the towers that day –making this an international day of mourning? Do we remember the fact that 21% (568) of the people confirmed dead that day were immigrants?

While we commemorate the lives of those lost this day 10 years ago, what goes unspoken has been the long term effects of prolonged exposure to the toxins at both sites. Multiple studies have shown that the surviving 9/11 first-responders have higher incidents of cancer and overall health illnesses than is normal. Yet it wasn’t until January that President Obama signed a bill into law that helped provide financial help for the medical needs of 9/11 recovery workers. For almost ten years, these individuals racked up huge debts and had their medical needs unanswered .(2)

I also think about the lives that were changed through no fault of their own. While we’ve written about the children of 9/11,who will never know their parents, we’ve forgotten to talk about victims of the increased hate violence all over the country. Racial profiling, hate speech, religious intolerance became acceptable in the most heinous of ways. In recent writings, we see what the post-9/11 realities look like for Arab and Muslim youth (See Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America). These issues aren’t localized. In her recent article, Monster (3), for the New Yorker, Zadie Smith writes about implications across the world in London. She says, “

For some, the basic political insights of adolescence arrived with an extra jolt: your people over here were hurting your people over there; your home was attacking your home. Then came the cataclysm. The end of the world for nearly three thousand innocent people. The beginning of a different sort of world for the rest of us. From the epicenter in Manhattan, shock waves rippled across Europe. In North West London, a small but significant change: the stereotype of the Muslim boy was transformed. From quiet, sexless, studious child—sitting in the back of class and destined for an engineering degree—to Public Enemy No. 1”

It seems that part of what we need to remember is that we’ve been a country built on advocating for change and fairness for all workers. In one of the many inspiring stories that came out of 9/11 –we’ve seen the former workers of Windows of the World ban together to create both a training center for immigrant restaurant workers and for workplace standards. What started in New York is now present in 5 other cities. In the face of great tragedy, they created positive change.(4) The story of Mrs. Bingham(5) –who in the aftermath of her son’ heroic actions became a tremendous supporter and advocate in the LGBT community. Working tirelessly to support the causes that were important to her son’s heart. Working in his memory has made the world a better place.

Part of what I struggle with today –is not just with the memory of the horrible act of terrorism that took over 2,996 deaths that day, but the immense amount of death we’ve witnessed. To date there have been 6,028 deaths of US Military in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also estimate that Iraqi civilian death tolls range between 102,000 and 112,000. What scares me most is that we are living in a time where war and national vitriol seemingly take precedence over building community and finding spaces and places of healing.

So today, I remember, by actively thinking about the forgotten, the unnamed, and the work we must do to both address their needs and to act in communion with the world they might want to see. I think it’s time we take positive action to provide for those who’s lives we’ve forgotten despite their service, then and now, to our country. Today, I say a prayer that we can become a country that values life, works for peace, and creates an inclusive community.






Labor Day: A Call for Reflection and Remembrance

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” Albert Einstein


This Labor Day, as you fire up the grill and lament the end of summer, I want to challenge each of you to reflect and remember the history of organized labor that this holiday is supposed to commemorate. 129 years ago, the Central Labor Council of New York organized and celebrated its first Labor Day, which was designed to celebrate the social and economic contributions and successes of American Workers.[i] Despite a past that’s riddled with racism, xenophobia, and sexism –the Labor Movement –both past and present are the reason we have Child Labor Laws, an 8-hour day, overtime pay, health benefits, workplace safety standards, and weekends.  These laws did not magically appear, they were the rewards of hard fought battles that men and women paid for with blood, sweat, tears, and in many cases their lives.  We are the beneficiaries of many unionists’ sacrifices.

As a professor that teaches about work, organized labor, and immigration, I remind my students that the history of the United States is synonymous with the history of organized labor. How we understand race, masculinity, and citizenship is deeply entrenched in how we understand both worker identity, and what it means to be an “American” worker.  David Roediger (1999) reminds us in The Wages of Whiteness that the rise of organized labor coincided with a desire to promote white supremacy and free white labor. Historically, it’s important to understand, that it was during the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, we saw the expansion of what groups were considered “white’ and that it coincided with a desire to consolidate power and privilege for white male workers.  Not surprisingly the expansion of whiteness coincided with the growth of racial and ethnic minority worker populations migrating to the United States to provide cheap labor and competition for white workers.[ii] This history is the legacy that organized labor has had to overcome in order to form and create a group that both represents and stands for the “American” worker.

The history of the labor movement in the United States is also a testament to the importance of coalition and collaboration.  The history of the Civil Rights Movements demonstrates the power of the combined efforts of the Civil Rights Movement and the Labor Movement.  History provides us with “heroes” and more importantly inspiration for understanding that change and transformation is possible in all social institutions.  A. Phillip Randolph –a fierce organizer and Civil Rights advocate, challenged union bosses and the American government to eliminate discrimination, particularly in workplaces and industry, and give every worker equal rights and fair wages.  He believed that, “Salvation for a race, nation or class must come from within. Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted.[iii]”  His life’s work is a testament to the importance of making sure all voices, particularly those that are most often silenced, are heard.  Randolph was central in pushing a Civil Rights agenda –starting with his work with the Brotherhood of Pullman Car Porters, and continuing with his steadfast work in organizing epic protests, such as the March on Washington, and finally in pushing the AFL-CIO to address issues of segregation and discrimination in its ranks.

We can look at the history of the United Farm Workers of America to understand the importance of cross ethnic collaboration and mobilization.  Although Cesar Chavez is often depicted as the driving force behind the growth of this union –it is important to note that the true history is more complex. Filipino workers were equally important to this movement and instrumental in UFW’s greatest successes.  After all, it was Larry Itiliong who originally initiated the Delano Grape Strike. It was Philip Vera Cruz’s ability to organize Filipino workers that helped drive the success of the union. When reading his autobiography, we begin to understand the struggles he faced as a leader, but what remained true –even after he broke ranks with the UFW when it supported the Marcos’ dictatorship was his fundamental belief in workers. He says, “The success of any positive changes in this country depends on the strength of the workers and the organizations that hold the workers together are the unions…. Nothing will really change in this country without the total support of the working class” (154).

Today, who we define as an “American” worker is much more global in nature.  Over the past fifteen years many unions have come to realize that in order to garner success, their organizing strategies must not be bound by borders and nation-states. An examination of any industry in the United States shows that workers are more diverse and includes immigrants and citizens, women and men, young and old. As recent studies have shown, union decline accounts for most of the rise in wage inequality[iv].  Yet, despite the fact there is seemingly greater need for unions than ever before, this year we’ve witnessed some of the most vicious attacks on collective bargaining.  Wisconsin, Ohio, and 25 other states have proposed drastic revisions on collective bargaining rights, particularly for public workers. Unionized public workers, who represent the final bastion of the middle class in the United States have become the scapegoat for the economic downturn the entire nation is embroiled in.  Media and pundits seemingly ignore the fact that big business is funding these campaigns and by all accounts profiting from their efforts. Is it particularly surprising that corporations have bounced back and recorded profits even as American workers are taking home less? (see table at end of blog.)[v] .  The attack on workers is not solely related to the middle class, however.  Recent anti-immigration legislation that is proposed or initiated in 26 different states across the country has created a narrative that paints immigrants as lazy and undeserving. Media utilize sound bytes that make immigrants the scapegoats for the economic downturn because “they’re taking American jobs.”  While factually untrue, these reports create rampant xenophobia and obscure the historical and empirical facts that clearly show that the nation’s economy depends on the labor of immigrants.  As seen in the aftermath of the Georgia and Alabama anti-immigration laws –in the absence of immigrants, their agricultural are faltering. So what does this say about how workers are viewed and treated?  The current message seems to be, “We want your labor, but only if we can exploit you for it.”  The idea that workers have the right to a living wage, benefits, and a fear from discrimination and persecution has seemingly fallen to the wayside.  The battle that unions and worker organizations are embroiled in across the country is not simply about maintaining middle class standing, it’s about promoting a more ethical form of capitalism in light of the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. It is about ensuring access to resources for workers and their families so that they can have a quality education, access to health care, and the ability to retire.

For me, Labor Day is about honoring the history of organized labor in this country.  With all its faults and problems, it serves as a model for how social institutions can change. Instead of passively believing that eventually something will happen, labor organizers have shown us time and time again, that if you account for the needs of communities and workers, change is the outcome of privileging the many above the few.  Charles Darrow once said, “With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men (and women) that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in men (and women) than any other association.”

So this Labor Day, I encourage you to support workers. All actions, big or small, matter.  Tell the managers at Ralphs, Albertson’s, or Von’s that if they fail to sign an equitable contract with UFCW you won’t be shopping there any more.  Sign petitions supporting collective bargaining in your state. Boycott the Hyatt until they sign their union contract. If nothing else, take a moment and remember all that we’ve gained from the sacrifices of the workers who came before us.

Union Yes!  Si Se Puede.


Source: Jared Bernstein, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

[ii] Numerous scholars discuss this including (but not limited to): Evelyn Nakano Glenn (2000) in “”Unequal freedom: how race and gender shaped American citizenship and labor;” Vicki Ruiz (1987) “Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930-1950;”  Chris Friday (1995) “Organizing Asian-American Labor: The Pacific Coast Canned-Salmon Industry, 1870-1942”

[iii] A Phillip Randolph Institute:

[iv] Western, B. & Rosenfeld, J (2011). “Unions, Norms, and the Rise in U.S. Wage Inequality” in American Sociological Review. Volume 76, Number 4, pgs 513-537.